In Slated, you’ve written adisturbing dystopian thriller. What is it that drew you to this genre?
As a reader, what gets me to pick up a book like this is the what if behind the world created in the story. What if teens can be unwound, every part of them kept alive so they aren’t ‘dead’? (Unwind, by Neil Shusterman). What if you had to choose between living forever, or having children? (The Declaration, Gemma Malley). What if instead of punishing criminals they could have their memories wiped, and start all over again? (Slated)
But as a writer, to me story always begins and ends with character. I never set out to write to a genre. Slated began from a dream I had: a girl running, terrified, on a beach. Somehow I knew the moment I put pen to paper early that morning, half awake, that there was power in her story and where it would take me. But it was always from inside her. The story and the world grew from there.
Why do you think that there is such interest in dystopian fiction at present?
Dystopian novels have always been a part of the literary landscape, yet there is no denying they are big now – particularly with the recent success of the Hunger Games film. But is it YA readers recognizing dystopian worlds as their own and clamouring to consume them that is behind the rise of dystopian fiction? Or is it authors being driven to write it as a reaction to their fears about the world and its future, along with a good dose of publishing industry hype, desperate to create the next big thing after wizards and vampires? For myself I don’t buy into that. Hype may get you to pick up a book, but it doesn’t make you love it and want more.
I can speculate how/why my unconscious mind taps into dark, future places, but at the end of it, to me the appeal of stories like Hunger Games, Divergent, How I Live Now to name a few, is all about character, and story. The ‘what if’ of the world created may be what gets me to pick up the book in the first place, but it is Katniss, Tris and Daisy that keep me there. Take an interesting character, put them in an impossible situation – and have them do something. Even if it doesn’t work out – at least, not at first. Surviving impossible odds in a dark world isn’t pessimistic to me at all: it is full of hope.
Are there particular pitfalls you have to be aware of in writing futuristic thrillers? What advice would you give to other people writing in this genre?
The world you create must feel real and believable to readers: you need to know it inside out, yet be sparing in details – only revealing what readers need to know when they need to know it. Slated is set in a near future UK, in 2054, so it is a recognizable world: the feeling that it could be just a few steps away from familiar reality is, to me, the key to making it chilling
Slated is your first book – what are you most pleased with about it?
Holding your first book in your hands: I can’t find the words for how that feels! What I’m most pleased about is probably a bit like trying to say why you love your children: some part of you knows they aren’t perfect, but they’re part of you. But I think if I had to pick one thing I’d say Kyla’s voice: she always had such a clear presence in my mind. She is real to me, so I hope she is real to readers.
And although I can’t take much credit for it, I absolutely love the cover!
You moved house a lot as a child, and indeed have moved around a lot as an adult too. You say this has influenced your writing – in what way?
I was born in France, my dad in the Netherlands, my mum in Canada to Finnish parents. I’ve lived all over Canada and Australia and now in England. In many ways, Kyla’s quest in Slated is a search for identity: how do you know who you are when memories are stripped away? When all the usual markers of where you belong – family, background, shared history – are gone? That sense of dislocation is part of me, and it is part of Kyla. After all, trying to work out who you are and where you fit in the world is kind of what it is all about.
There has to be a sequel to Slated! Is this already written?
Fractured is very nearly finished! It will be out in the UK in May 2013, published by Orchard Books. In it Kyla has to make a stand for what she believes in: the stakes are high. Understanding her past and how she got where she is now hold the key to any chance of a future.